As a reality show almost-virgin (I am not sure two episodes each of Temptation Island, Average Joe and Rock of Love Bus count), let's just say that standing in a line outside a Lane Bryant on a Saturday afternoon in order to pimp my relationship history out to a skinny LA producer type with a clipboard in the hopes that she'll believe I'm honestly looking to find love in some way that her bosses can exploit for money was not high on my list of fun things to do.
But at 12:05, there I was with about 20 other women who were all dressed to the nines. Whoops! I didn't get the memo, and showed up in ripped up (but reasonably tight) jeans and a cute green top. The blonde girl in the front of the line was wearing sequins and rocking back and forth on her heels, and several groups of women were there together, laughing and chattering away while waiting for the bald (but more attractive than Kevin James) guy at the front of the line to give them clipboards with applications. Two camera crews were working the line, doing interviews and getting b-roll — one with Entertainment Tonight and the other, as I ascertained later, with the production company. Not one of us got to move into the store (or the screenings) until the reporters had gotten their fill, and so those of us stuck near the end of the line started to get a little restless — and hot, stuck out in the sun.
Getting sweaty (and hungry) with a bunch of other woman already inclined to conversation leads to talking, so I chatted up the woman behind me who was also by herself. An aspiring plus-size model and current office drone, she was decked out in a stretchy red dress, a slightly visible red lace bra and gold strappy sandals. I held her bag with her heels a couple of times as the production company photographer and the videographers took pictures and video of her hamming it up.
Meanwhile, we shamelessly eavesdropped on the interviews the ET crew were doing — they picked a Latina woman who was (as many of the women were) a Lane Bryant employee; a white girl nearly as fair as me but certainly blonder; and a black woman too far up in the line for us to hear what she was saying. The Latina woman was, by far, the most poised of the bunch, with perfect hair, even better skin and an outfit that complimented her figure. She was a big advocate of loving who you were and you'd find love — and she was in that line for her chance to find love. I hoped she was just saying it to get on TV. The blonde woman fronted about how she gets to pick up hot guys, and how they tell her big girls are better in bed than skinny girls and then talked about how, at 32, it was her turn to find real love. The rest of us talked amongst ourselves about why they were talking to the other women.
A lot of the women seemed to view this audition as a way to actually start a relationship, which I thought meant that they had either watched even less reality TV than I, or bought into it way more than is probably healthy. Standing outside in the hot sun, vying for small patches of shade, we discussed the unfairness of asking a bunch of larger women to get dressed up nice, put on makeup and then stand outside sweating at lunch time; about the stereotypes about big women; about how people feel it's appropriate to tell bigger women they have such "pretty" faces. One woman mentioned that her grandmother told her if she just lost 10 pounds, she'd find a husband; another mentioned how acquaintances will walk up to her and ask if she gained weight again. Not too many of the women had heard that the dude on this show is, himself, going to be plus-sized and expressed displeasure at the idea that the only visually-acceptable choice for a big woman was considered to be a big man, as though a bigger woman and a thinner man was too "weird" for television.
Because the producer at the front of the line cherry-picked the order of the auditioners in it, rather than going in order, a bunch of us ended up standing there together for two hours, and one of them started planning where they were all going to go to lunch (I had to decline for a prior commitment). One dude, waiting for his wife who was shopping, tried to take pictures of us to jerk off to later and got yelled at. The production company's camera crew unsuccessfully tried to lead us in a cheer for the camera and ended up asking a bunch of the better-dressed women in line to create a runway on the sidewalk and strut their stuff, or asked them to wink or kiss at the camera, attempting, in effect, to sexualize them as much as the producers on any other reality show would. And, objectification aside, some of them looked great.
Finally handed a questionnaire of my own, I was asked the following questions:
- Are you genuinely looking for love?
- What does the phrase "real woman" mean to you?
- Who are you in a relationship? What kind of girlfriend are you?
- Has your weight ever become an issue in a past relationship?
- How do you feel about the entertainment industry's standard of beauty?
- Tell us why you are comfortable in your own skin
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
- What is something that nobody would know just by looking at you?
Eventually, the dude at the door decided it was my turn to bare my soul for a producer. I had what was, I'm certain, the shortest interview of the bunch, as I sat down and introduced myself as a freelance writer. The woman reassured me that the show was not intended to be exploitative and, as the season was being sponsored by Lane Bryant, was intended to be body-positive and non-judgmental. She did not mention, "insofar as setting some number of women up in sexual competition for the affection and attention of one dude is not exploitative." She then asked me about my past relationships, feeling comfortable in my own skin, how I got to a point where I was satisfied with my existence and all that jazz. Somewhere between the hangover, the low blood sugar and the desire to run from the potential for that much public humiliation, I was somewhat less than the sort of perky and fun than the women I'd been in line with. They told me callbacks were on Sunday, filming would start before Memorial Day and the whole thing would air in July.
Then I beat feet out of there, pausing to say goodbye to my line-friends and wish them luck. One of them told me she'd see me at the taping, to which I just smiled and said sure, and I walked away to get some lunch. Now I just have to hope that the footage of me cheering for the camera ends up on the cutting room floor.